Perhaps it’s not the best way to eliminate the competition, but Lee Lawson of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance says the South Alabama Mega Site is the only one left in the state. All the others have landed businesses.

“We’re now the only certified mega site in the entire state of Alabama and we sit ready for the next opportunity,” Lawson said.

But the process of elimination meant a Limestone County mega site near Huntsville is now off the board, taken last week by Toyota and Mazda’s $1.6 billion manufacturing plant. Baldwin County, Lawson said, was runner up yet again in trying to land a business for its north Baldwin site.

“We were in the running and we competed for it up until about a couple of months ago, when we were eliminated,” Lawson said. “It doesn’t make being eliminated any easier because those types of projects don’t come around very often and when you’re able to compete for them and be considered for them you want to win.”

Elimination in this latest effort for the mega site, Lawson said, was due mainly to location.

“At the end of the day the proximity to the existing automotive supply chain and Toyota’s existing supply chain eliminated us,” Lawson said. “We can’t change our geography.”

The 3,009-acre Baldwin site was first designated in July 2011. It is considered shovel-ready because all utilities are already in place, it is adjacent to a major interstate highway and it has mainline CSX rail service. The site is owned by the county, which purchased it in 2012 at a cost of $32 million.

Lawson believes the exposure the Baldwin County site received during the competition to land the new facility will pay off in the future and, hopefully, the near future.

“I felt like with the feedback we got from the company and the consultant, we got a verification that our site is a really great site,” he said. “Our community and the workforce component are there. I feel good about it and we’ve been a finalist on several big projects and feel like we’re there. And we’re ready. We’ve got some we’re currently pursuing right now and hope to have our success sooner rather than later.”

Contacts made during the selection process, Lawson believes, will eventually lead to a client at Baldwin’s mega site.

“Our time is coming,” he said. “You want to compete with the best and you want to be there at the end of the day against the best communities and the best sites, and we are. I feel validated and good about our position as it relates to the opportunities we’ve seen and how deep in the competitions we’ve gone.”

Huntsville and several other local governments pitched in with tax incentives of $800 million to $900 million to land the Toyota-Mazda plant. The site selected was first considered for a Volkswagen plant about 10 years ago, but lost out to a Chattanooga-area site.

“It’s that exact site,” Lawson said. “They’ve been working for almost 11 years on that site and we’ve only been working for about four on ours when we’ve had it totally under control and been marketing it. Hopefully, we’re not waiting 10 for our opportunity to finalize, but these are long-term plays.”

(Photo | Courtesy Baldwin EDA) The South Alabama Mega Site includes more than 3,000 acres with a mile of frontage on Interstate 65, plus access to a railway and four-lane highway.